Head of landlords now firmly opposes new code



It appears that a group wanting to repeal a new property maintenance code in Jonesboro will get the chance.

Enough signatures have been collected to justify a special election.

We told you about this brewing battle last week and now it seems one of the players who seemed undecided at the time has now chosen sides.

The new property maintenance code will go into effect March 15th. Property owners will need to maintain both the inside and the outside of their homes to a minimum standard.

Add another to the fight to repeal the code...despite what he told us on January 29th.

On January 21st the Northeast Arkansas Landlords Association was encouraging members to help get signatures and sign the official petition to repeal the Jonesboro property maintenance code.

A January 22nd press release encouraged members to contact attorney Travis Story for more information.

One week later we asked the president of the Northeast Arkansas Landlords Association about Travis Story.

"Who is Travis Story? And is he part of the effort to get this repealed?"

"I am not a part of that altogether...although I am, I have a side on that," answered John Hardin on January 29th. "But I'm not a part of that."

"This is an organized campaign..."

"It is," said Hardin. "It is organized. I am aware of it. But I haven't even signed a petition."

"So are petitions already circulating?"

"They are circulating, yes," said Hardin. "But I don't know who Travis Story is. I'm not involved in that."

"I've been told he is a Fayetteville attorney..."

"He is," interjected Hardin.

"...who was paid $20,000.00 to try to defeat this proposal."

"Yeah," Hardin agreed. "And I haven't said if that is a good idea or a bad idea. I don't really have a stance on that either way."

But two days before our interview Hardin posted on Facebook "I'll have petitions today. Call me and I'll hook u up."

And three days after our interview Hardin signed a petition supporting the repeal effort.

We asked Mr. Hardin to review his Facebook post about having recall petitions and invited him to offer an explanation as to why that doesn't contradict his comment to us two days later that he was not involved in the process.

Here is his response:

At the time of our interview on Jan 29th, I was not a participant in the repeal process and had no plans to be. I did request from the appeal committee a copy of the petition being circulated and tried to have one delivered to me prior to our interview so I could read it to be more informed, but that didn't happen till a week later. Unlike the committee Citizens for a Better Jonesboro, who mailed letters from a postage machine In Paragould, to local Jonesboro businesses asking them to NOT allow petitioners to canvas at their place of business, I still believed a citizens right to petition government for redress is constitutional.

It was after the letters and meanness and accusations exhibited by some of the supporters of the code as written now, I relented and supported the effort to repeal this version of a property maintenance code for Jonesboro. It was with great reservations I did so, I still believe we need a maintenance code, but agree this one needs revisions.

As I said in our interview, I believe a property maintenance code will be good for Jonesboro. But one that overreaches, with the potential to ruin lives for the sake of someone's property value or to remove the poor from a sweet neighborhood is not the answer. It's the supporters of this code venomous campaigning mainly on social media and in the letters to the editor in the newspaper, that scare me, not the current code enforcement officers or the city administration who I have a lot of respect for. If activist pushing this version of the code will treat the good landlords the same as slumlords in this way, how will they treat the defenseless tenants they want dispersed from their sight?

I believe if a majority of the citizens can live with the text of the code, the minimum habitability requirements as stated, the minimum fines of $750 a day after the third day a violation exists, (each day is a separate violation per the text of the code), and are willing to abide by the law and be subjected to a misdemeanor charge on your record if not compliant, then this will bring about the change the voters will have approved of and voted for. The consequences brought about , intended and unintended, will be the responsibility of the supporters and voters who believe this will not bring hardship on anyone. The Mayor will also be off the hook for casting the tie breaking vote.

If the repeal is successful, I would be one of the first to support a revised version, with input this time on the standard operating procedure for code enforcement to use included in the negotiations and development of a better ordinance, one that would solve problems without creating unintended hardships on those we would seek to help.

On more than one occasion I have extended an offer to work out a compromise. But each time the supporters refused to sit down and talk and listen to even one concern the opponents have. It's the all or nothing attitude of venomous supporters that have brought this issue to a vote of the people, not just landlords or realtors. There are about 60 members in the NEA Landlord Association. I can't say how many realtors there are, don't know. Some NEA landlord members don't even own property in the city limits of Jonesboro. There were over 5000 signatures on the petitions turned in. 90% of the signatures gathered were done so by non-realtors and non-landlords.

Good landlords are defending their tenants and their business. They don't want to be subjected to costly unnecessary annual inspections. Some cities charge $100 a door and up to $500 a door for re-inspections after tenant complaints. (See Tupelo MS property maintenance code) Landlords would have to pass those costs to tenants, raising rents and creating a hardship on the very poor that can least afford it. While there is no mention of property inspections with annual inspection fees in this code, it's happened in many municipalities where property codes have targeted rental properties. Many current code supporters say that they will push for rental property inspection fees. Tenants will pay for these fees in rent increases if this happens.

Dozens of landlords have rental openings available to tenants now. Why are those claiming to help the helpless not trying to work with good landlords and get these unfortunate a better place to live? I've averaged 6 available units a month for 3 years now. Not one supporter of the code has contacted me to help anyone. I can't believe any judge would uphold a lease where the roof leaks or the floor is rotted to the ground or has leaking gas from a furnace. I also know plenty of landlords that work within a tenants budget to help them move. Many landlords even offer first month free on new move in's. How in the world could that not help get a tenant moved to a better place?

If I didn't respond to something you asked me about, please let me know, I'll do my best to clear it up.

We then asked Mr. Hardin why during our interview he said he did not know who Travis Story is when his organization was encouraging members to contact Story for more information on the petitions and repeal effort.

Mr. Hardin emailed us the day after this story was broadcast to explain that information was posted to the NEALA's web site without his knowledge and that the information has now been removed. He says new NEALA policy and procedures will hopefully prevent future unauthorized postings. As for Travis Story, Mr. Hardin says he was not involved in hiring him and does not know who did. He says he has never spoken with Mr. Story.

Air date: February 24th, 2016

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